Monday, November 10, 2008

Pen Meets Paper, Nov10, 2008

Pen Meets Paper
Opinion by Helge Nome
As this edition of the Mountainer goes to press, Canadians are remembering those that lost their lives in armed conflicts during the last hundred years. The second World War is starkly real to me as it literally came in with my mothers milk: I was conceived in 1942 and born in 1943 during the height of the war in German occupied Norway. In later years, my mother told me about smuggling eggs under her coat on the train, coming back to the city from a farm belonging to family friends. Strict rationing forbade common folk from getting extra food on the side.
My father was a dairy factory inspector for a farmers' cooperative during the war and used to travel around the country quite a bit. One morning he happened to share breakfast table at the hotel with a young cocky German officer of the occupation force who remarked on the lack of resistance the Germans had encountered during their invasion. He uttered words to the effect of “I thought you were tough Vikings in Norway?” To which my father replied “We have become civilized in the last 1000 years”.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for most people on the planet, as evidenced by ongoing war and strife during the 20th century with no abatement in sight in the early part of the 21st century.
When I was young I had a hard time figuring out why decent people would turn on one another with the sole object of destroying the other person. I concluded that there must be some kind of insanity behind this behaviour.
When we were kids we used to play in bunkers and dugouts left behind by the occupation forces, unbeknown to our parents, which was just as well as the supporting timbers were in an advanced state of decay at the time (early 1950ies). We even found a pouch of wartime tobacco in one of them and got well and truly sick when we tried to smoke the stuff. To this day, I am convinced that it was not real tobacco at all. I can well remember walking around along the edge of a large circular gun turret made of concrete and steel and imagining controlling the great gun that commanded the entrance to Kristiansand Harbour.
We also played in the remains of a castle on a small island that used to command the same, albeit smaller, area during the Napoleonic wars when English raiders were kept at bay. (Norway/Denmark participated in that conflict on the side of the French).
So, like it or not, “War” is in my bones and it is truly a detestable business: My father told me that the Gestapo had commandeered a house on a high spot on the edge of the town of Kristiansand and used it as a place to torture suspected resistance members. The windows were deliberately kept open so that their screams could be heard all over town in order to discourage would-be recruits. The occupation forces also had a policy of shooting 10 Norwegians, picked up at random, for each German that was killed by resistance people. One German commander, in charge of the occupiers of a community in Northern Norway was a decent man, and refused to carry out this order. He did his best throughout the occupation to protect local people and developed a good relationship with them. After the end of the war he and his family were invited back and he was celebrated as a hero.

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